Max settled in very quickly. Those first few days, he was good as gold, other than minor misdemeanours like stealing my dusters when I was doing the housework. He also made one tentative chew at the Queen Anne leg on our wing chair, but having been chastised and given a rawhide bone, along with an explanation that this was what he chewed when he wanted to exercise his jaw, he never touched the living-room furniture again. He was still very young, and in puppy mode, but he was cooperative. However, I had the sense that he was ever watchful, trying to assess and figure out his new household. Knowing his troubled history, and ever conscious of that wild glint in his odd-coloured eyes, I wanted to do all I could to turn him into a happy, well-socialized household pet who could interact with family and visitors without tension or anxiety.
We found several opportunities for socializing that first week. Max’s first outing was a trip to the vet for his shots. He cowered abjectly when he got inside the surgery, but he bore his shots manfully and made friends afterwards when Dr. Zinger offered him a tidbit. Max and Dr. Zinger were to have a prolonged association over the next few years—we used to say Max had been a major contributor to Dr. Zinger’s retirement—so it was just as well they established a good rapport early. Dr. Zinger was a wonderful man, dedicated and kind, and the care he showed Max was far beyond the call of duty. Max never liked going to the vet, but he seemed to understand that Dr. Zinger was there to help him. Dr. Zinger was definitely part of Max’s ‘Inner Circle’.
Max tolerated his visit to the vet, but he loved his next outing. I took him with me when I went to city hall to purchase his dog licence. He trotted beside me up the stairs, looking very cute in his new red collar and walking on his leash in exemplary fashion. He waited patiently for the people in front of us to be served, and as soon as we reached the front of the line, he stood up on his stubby hind legs, put his front paws on the counter and peered at the lady on the other side. Her ‘Oh’ of delight caused his tail to wag a mile a minute. There was a bit of a ham inside that husky body and his performance that day was a precursor of things to come. The licencing department ground to a halt for several minutes while all the clerks made a great fuss of their four-legged visitor.
Max’s third outing brought him even more adulation. Katie, who was in Grade 3 at the time, liked to come home for lunch, generally putting in a specific menu request before leaving in the morning. That particular morning, her order was not only for her special favourite, brie in filo pastry, but also a directive to have Max ready to go after we’d eaten as it was a show-and-tell afternoon. So after lunch, we walked Max to school to visit Katie’s classroom and Max dutifully ‘showed’ while Katie ‘telled’. He was moderately well behaved and very much admired.
I was reassured by all these encounters. Max seemed to be a friendly little guy, especially around women or children, which was understandable given that it was the mother and the little boy in his first home who gave him love and attention. He was less relaxed around men, but as long as their manner was easy and unthreatening, he would make friends fairly quickly. I was also pleased to discover that Max was good if left alone when we went out. Unlike Beanie, who, in puppydom, had howled like a banshee, ripped up linoleum and torn down curtains if left unattended, Max simply lay down in the front hall, went to sleep and waited for us to return. In that one regard, he was definitely a Ho Hum Husky. However, my first venture out without him was a trip to Safeway, and when I returned, I was carrying bags of food which he found very interesting. Since he turned out to be a dog with an elephantine memory, perhaps he surmised that any excursions that excluded him were simply his owners going out for provisions.
Having realized that he was in a household of loving adults and playful children, Max’s nervous mannerisms began to abate. Collars and leashes no longer bothered him; however, his earlier anxiety would still manifest in a variety of ways. He was the only dog I’ve ever known who had nightmares. Watching Beanie dream had been funny, for her whiffles and twitching paws signaled that she was having a wonderful time chasing squirrels and romping in the park, but watching Max dream was sad. He would often whine or whimper, and his body movements indicated distress. We also noticed that, whenever we were walking along the street and a smell of curry wafted over the air, Max would cringe and cower— and large men, particularly those with turbans, triggered growls and raised hackles. We appeared to have acquired a dog that was anxious, racist and sexist.
An interesting side note: since the late 1980s when Burnaby erupted into a huge controversy over dogs and off-leash areas—something I took great delight in fictionalizing in my story, “A Political Tail”—Burnaby has had a string of mayors who like dogs and who don’t hold it against me that I was christened “The Dog Lady” by the local press at that time. I never minded the dog-lady title—I was actually born in the Chinese Year of the Dog—and I had lots of discussions about man’s best friend with the various men in office. Gentlemanly Bill Copeland was a great supporter of the off-leash areas, and a cheerleader for my arts projects too. Doug Drummond, an enthusiastic dog owner himself, once informed me that, if there were such a thing as reincarnation, next time round he would like to come back as my dog. A chat with Doug’s successor, Derek Corrigan, revealed that he, too, owned a politically incorrect dog. Derek told us that he often had to apologize for his rescue dog’s overt displays of ethnic dislikes. Max was not the only racist canine on the block.
There is no doubt that Max’s first four months, like a baby’s first year, did a lot to determine his character, and no matter how well we treated him, there were some bad memories that were never completely eradicated. When those memories were combined with his alpha-male nature and his wolf genes, there was the potential for trouble ahead. We naively thought love would be enough, but we were soon to realize that training Max was going to be uphill work—and we weren’t going to be able to do it alone. Good as gold lasted about a week, but there were storms ahead.
Next: Not so good as gold after all.